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April 08. 2013 7:45PM

Insect that destroys ash trees discovered in NH

An invasive insect has been discovered inside an ash tree in Concord, the first such detection in the state, prompting officials to launch an action plan they hope will protect ash trees from a bug that has killed millions of such trees in the Midwest.

The action plan calls for everything from inspections of all ash trees within a 4-square-mile block and quarantines of ash trees, ash wood products, and firewood produced in Merrimack County, said Brad Simpkins, New Hampshire state forester.

State law allows officials to access private property to test for the insect, and the state can even remove infected trees in designated control areas, Simpkins said.

But at this point, officials are asking Concord residents to look for ash trees with stripped bark or heavy woodpecker activity, a sign that the tree is infected with the insect. Scientists are working on biological control measures, such as predator wasps, to attack the borer, a member of the beetle family of insects, Simpkins said.

"We knew emerald ash borer would get to us eventually," Simpkins said. "What we're trying to do is slow the spread and allow technology and science to catch up to it."

On March 27, a citizen noticed the woodpecker activity on the 75-foot ash, and samples were taken. The emerald ash borer larvae was confirmed last week, Simpkins said. The tree was standing Monday but will be cut down within two days, he said.

Ash trees susceptible to the insect include the white ash, green ash and black-brown ash. The mountain ash is a different genus and not susceptible to the insect.

Simpkins said inspections will take place of every ash tree within the 4-mile square. A grid of 64 blocks has been drawn up, and two ash trees in every block will be sampled.

It should take about 1½ months to realize the spread of the insect. The adults can take flight beginning in May, Simpkins said.

Simpkins said the out-of-state firewood ban, which went into effect in 2011, was to prevent the spread of the insect.

As of Monday, an emergency quarantine went into effect when it comes to ash products in Merrimack County, as well as any hardwood firewood in Merrimack County. It includes ash nursery stock and ash lumber.

Simpkins noted that the quarantine involves state and federal agencies, and a violation can result in civil and criminal penalties.

Ash trees are not prevalent in the state; they comprise an estimated 1 percent of milled hardwood and saw logs in the state, and 6 percent of all hardwoods. They grow near water and wetlands, and they are favored in cities for their height and shade, he said.

Many were planted to replace elm trees lost to Dutch elm disease, Simpkins said.

He said landowners can hire a professional to apply insecticide to high-value ash trees.

mhayward@unionleader.com


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